Global Robotics Developments Include Big Buses and Tiny Drones

In the News
March 24, 2017

China is working to become the leader in artificial intelligence, while Israel uses military drones, and German companies specialize in industrial robot arms.

There’s so much daily news about global robotics scene that it’s hard to stay on top of it, no matter whether you’re an executive or a policy maker.

Robotics Business Review has partnered with me to bring you a cutting-edge look into the week’s five most important global robotics developments. Let’s dive in!

1. Asia’s new AI player

Artificial intelligence and Asia are synonymous mainly because of the advances taking place Japan, China, and South Korea. Now, a fourth country is entering the race: Singapore.

Japan’s NEC Corp. has partnered with SMRT Corp., a local bus company in Singapore, and completed a trial that tested AI’s ability to predict accidents. Their data scientists looked at performance data, bus driver behavior, and more to make predictions.

A few weeks ago, the government of Singapore unveiled grants of S$45 million ($32.14 million U.S.) to two organizations. One of them, the Defence Science and Technology Agency, will use the money for research and development of military applications using AI and big data.

Last October, Singapore’s Ministry of Defence said it wants “autonomous unmanned systems” to support soldiers on the battlefield.

With Singapore’s new focus on AI, the Asian robotics scene could heat up even further. The island nation might not be able to compete with China and Japan in terms of funding, but it has many other advantages.

It has an English-speaking population and a developed economy interested in growing trade with the West. Singapore is also becoming a startup hub and already has established global robotics companies.

For instance, Singapore-based GreyOrange is a major supplier of automation to India and is looking to expand into warehousing and logistics.

Singapore is also becoming a startup hub and is not just a new AI player in Southeast Asia, but for the world.

2. Can’t trust self-driving cars

Would you trust a self-driving car to make tough decisions? Apparently, Volvo doesn’t. Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars, said during the 2017 Geneva Motor Show that the company’s self-driving vehicles, if faced with an “imminent accident,” will not decide between saving the driver or a pedestrian.

This raises the question of what exactly autonomous vehicles would do. Samuelsson also stated Volvo’s stance: “Our self-driving cars will not have ethics built into them to deal with life-and-death situations.”

This could reflect a widening divide within the automotive industry. Will some self-driving cars include ethics in their programming, and will some consumers want vehicles without such programming?

For those vehicles that do include moral decision-making capacity, who will determine those ethical rules?

When then-President Barack Obama spoke with Wired about robotics and AI last year, he raised this very point. He mentioned the kinds of decisions self-driving cars will be forced to make, like avoiding a pedestrian but then hitting a wall, causing the driver to die.

Right now, the major automakers and AI companies have claimed that self-driving cars will be safer, but they haven’t explicitly addressed ethical dilemmas. And that means, for now, we should think twice before trusting self-driving cars to...

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